Property owners face raps for refusal to pull down oversized posters
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) warned private property owners that they may face charges should they refuse to remove oversized campaign materials displayed on their premises.
Under fire for taking down tarpaulins and posters posted on private property, the Comelec said regardless of where they are, the size of campaign materials should be regulated because it is election propaganda, not protected speech.
“The Comelec may file cases against private property owners who will remain adamant on displaying oversized campaign posters displayed on their premises,” Jimenez warned.
He said the Comelec has set the maximum size of campaign posters to two feet by three feet.
The Comelec also observed that aside from oversized posters, campaign materials may not be nailed on trees, electric poles, and business and private structures which are outside of the Comelec-designated common poster areas.
The Comelec started its Operation Baklas on Feb. 16 to remove “unlawful” election materials posted by political candidates, but immediately drew flak when enforcers removed campaign posters posted at the Quezon City headquarters of presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.
Jimenez said the Comelec enforcers had obtained the consent of the owners of the private properties before entering and taking down the campaign materials.
“I think it’s been lost in the conversation thus far that we didn’t enter those places without consent. In all of those cases that I know of for example, our Comelec officials have asked for permission. We asked to enter those areas,” Jimenez said.
“We pointed out that the materials that were to be taken down were in violation of the rules and the property owners either consented to us taking them down or themselves said that they would take them down on their own again as far as yesterday was concerned I think it should be very clear that we were acting well within the scope of the resolution,” he said.
He added that they have documents to show that the poll body officials had asked permission before they entered the property.
“We have documentary evidence in both cases where before entering our officials would actually talk to the people involved,” Jimenez added.
Asked what they will do if the owners refuse them entry, he said their refusal will be respected.
“That’s their right. They can refuse entry. What happens in practice is that they are advised of the violation and the next steps that the Comelec will take,” he added.
“For example, if you have a situation where we see large posters on private property or large billboards on private property, we inform the property owners that those materials have to be taken down. If they refuse, then we serve them notice that they need to take them down.
Then if they remain adamant, there may be filing of cases,” he added.
For now, we will just document these by taking pictures and sending them to the law department of the Comelec central office, while giving time for the candidates to take them down,” he said.
Jimenez said the right to free speech is not absolute, saying “there are two kinds of speech here. Advocacy-based, which is protected, and speech that’s simply a declarative statement, which is election propaganda.”
“The Supreme Court made a distinction between advocacies and declaring a vote for a candidate. We were acting within the scope of resolution,” Jimenez added.
Jimenez said those who oppose the Comelec position could submit position papers on the issue.
“The Comelec is not deaf to the public, right? And if the public is raising a clamor as to what they’re doing now, then we’re not adverse to looking at our rules again,” he added.
He said so far, no official complaint has been lodged before the Comelec.
The Palace said the Comelec is an independent constitutional body and its decision should be respected.
Acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said those with grievances have “legal recourse that they can explore.”